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Career changing Inspiration Writing

Getting Inspiration from Visual Artists

Getting Inspiration from Visual Artists

Visual artists and the visual arts can be a source of intense inspiration. Because their struggles can be a lot like a writer’s.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Visual Artists
Do you ever get your inspiration from visual artists and their works?

Consider how a piece of art makes any of us feel. Does it inspire? Or are you puzzled? Can it move you emotionally? And what’s happening around the fringes? Because sometimes the details and the background are of more interest than the main subject. You know, just like in books sometimes.

Hence let’s take a look at some inspiring pieces.

Visual ArtistsOf course Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world.

Furthermore, the mystery of the piece continues to this day, as it has for a few hundred years. So, what, exactly, does her smile mean? After all, it’s a small smile. And so the model intrigues us, even now.

 

 

 

Here’s another one.Visual Artists Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory is another very well-known piece although you might not have known its name.

Because the painting is so strange, it can offer any number of interpretations. How important is time? Is the setting a desert? And what about the odd white lump in the center? Could that maybe be a creature wearing a clock as a saddle? Maybe it means we are all driven by time and memory. Hence we are all under its yoke.

So think about the paintings (and sculptures, too!) which you know. And consider what you see in them, for they may help, particularly with writer’s block.

A Practical Idea

So did you know that Pinterest has secret pin boards? It’s true. And what that means is, you can always create a secret board for only you to see. Or you can share it with a select audience, such as beta readers or even fans, if you like.

And all you need to do is, go to your profile and scroll all the way down. You’ll find it on the left (“Create Secret Board“). And that’s all you need to. So fill it with art which has meaning for you.

Visual Artists: Some Takeaways

Visual artists and art can inspire. And the internet means you don’t even have to visit a museum, although you might want to, anyway.

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Career changing Inspiration Writing

Getting Inspiration From Names

Getting Inspiration From Names

Names

While names have meanings, you can even get inspiration simply from how they sound. What’s Gertrude like? How about Lakeisha? Or maybe Stefan or Juan?

Popularity

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Getting inspiration from names
Can you get inspiration from names?

The popularity of what people call their children changes over time. This can depend upon movie stars, politicians, or even religious figures. When I was born in 1962, my first name, Janet, was already past its peak. However, it was popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Why?

Because in 1937, Janet Gaynor starred in A Star is Born. However, Janet Leigh did not star in Psycho until 1960. And Janet Jackson doesn’t seem to be having too much of an effect on baby naming. For a lot of little girls who would have have the name Janet in the past, now often have the name Jennifer or Jessica.

Ethnicity

Another factor? Ethnicity. Maria has probably made the crossover to non-Spanish and non-Italian families, but not Juan and Vito. How many non-Russians have the name Boris (the British politician Boris Johnson notwithstanding)? And do you know any non-Irish women named Siobhan? So when you create your characters, see if you can match ethnicity. Of course there are Jewish kids named Sean and British people named Dominic. So this isn’t a hard and fast rule or anything.

For my own work, Ceilidh O’Malley in The Real Hub of the Universe has the most ethnic name of all of my main characters. But Noah Braverman and Mei-Lin Quan from Mettle are up there, too, as is Mercedes Pérez in Time Addicts.

Tradition

For westerners, traditional names generally come from both the Old and New Testament, or from the saints. Hence you see Margaret and Mary, but also James and David. Other related names can be similar or with alternate spellings or derivatives. Marynel and Maryellen of course derive from Mary, and Stefan is just the German version of Stephen (or Steven).

In my own work, the most traditional names mainly come from The Real Hub of the Universe. This is because that trilogy takes place in the 1870s and 1880s.

Inventions

People also, sometimes, invent new names. Actress Alyssa Milano’s daughter is named Elizabella. So of course the name comes from clipping the Beth part off Elizabeth and instead inserting the similar name, Bella. While it might or might not catch on more widely, it’s a fairly harmless alteration. Plus it allows for a number of shortenings.

Because all of the characters in Untrustworthy are aliens, I had to come up with names. Hence I came up with Tathrelle, Ixalla, Adger, and Velexio.

Takeaways For Names

Name your characters whatever you wish, but do keep them consistent within your universe. And while there’s technically nothing wrong with having two similarly-named characters, if they spend too much time together and are otherwise too similar, that can lead to some . Hence you might occasionally want to change Tim and Tom to Tim and Dan.

And keep in mind, names can come into and go out of fashion. These days, very old-fashioned names are often popular again. Hence, your futuristic science fiction novel might have people named Hiram, Dorcas, or Ethel.

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Career changing Inspiration Writing

Writing Children and About Children

Children

Children characters can present their own set of challenges. And keep in mind, I wrote a bit about kids in the Aging post. However, now it’s time for a deeper dive into what it means to write about children.

Don’t gloss over childhood. It’s not all sunshine and roses. Some kids have truly horrible lives – bullying, abuse, poverty, and trafficking are all still with us. And don’t forget, even infants can get cancer. But right now, let’s concentrate on some issues that are a lot easier to take.

Infants and Toddlers

The very young can change in rather rapid and surprising ways. Fortunately, several developmental charts exist. And they can give you an idea of what a baby or child can do at a certain stage. Hence, for example, a newborn should not be out of diapers unless they have help or you are writing some sort of fantasy. Furthermore, while these charts give an idea of what to expect, they’re not laws.

Kids develop at their own paces. So recognize that while your newborn character going diaper-less is probably not going to be believable, you can still write a range for these milestones. Furthermore, you can also use standard milestones as a way to signal problems with a baby, such as by showing the reader a child who should be crawling as barely holding his head up.

Preschoolers and Elementary School Children

The start of school is a major event in a young child’s life. And so are other firsts, such as learning to read and beginning to really socialize. And their vocabularies are growing as their worlds continue to expand. By this time, they probably have a good idea of their sexuality even if girls are icky and boys are gross.

For the most part, a child does not naturally lisp! Adding lisping and other affectations will just irritate most readers. However, you can indicate immaturity with simpler sentence structures and vocabulary. A young child has not read Kierkegaard. And they probably don’t know what plenipotentiary means, either. Unless, of course, they’re a genius.

But use genius characters sparingly. Most people just plain aren’t Einstein or Hawking, etc. Too many geniuses, unless you make them some sort of a special program, are just going to be annoying to readers.

Tweens and Teens

As with younger children, these older kids have their own developmental milestones. Puberty in girls comes with not only the development of secondary sex characteristics, but also menarche. Adolescence in boys can arrive later than in girls.

Writing a historical novel? Then know that menarche (a girl’s first menstrual period) occurs about three years earlier now than it did a century ago. This is due to, among other things, better nutrition.

Kids in these age groups tend to start to get interested in relationships (although asexual folks beg to differ). Plus, everything can be ultra-dramatic. Some may be losing their virginity or facing pregnancy issues. And others might be late bloomers, wondering why things are happening to everyone but them. Our present-day culture attaches a number of privileges to this time, including becoming old enough to drive, work, drink, marry, go to war, and even vote.

Takeaways

Kids are more than their developmental stages. However, it still pays to know these and follow them, even if you want your characters to subvert them. And as with all characters, do your best to avoid clichés.

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Career changing Inspiration

Writing Better Dialogue

Writing Better Dialogue

Better dialogue can elevate any piece. And it can even help to salvage a bad or otherwise forgettable piece of writing. Consider, for example, the works of Aaron Sorkin or Robert Altman. While these are examples from television and film, they should give an idea.

Sorkin is known for excellent dialogue, from such films as The Social Network and TV shows like The West Wing. However, Altman’s fame comes more for overlapping dialogue, from films like Nashville, M*A*S*H, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Word Choice

Consider your characters’ educational levels. A college graduate will, in general, use longer and more complex and subtle words versus a high school dropout. This does not necessarily mean one is smarter than the other, I might add. Hence consider who says prior to instead of before, or automobile rather than car. Because that will help the reader to define who is speaking if you are more or less consistent with who uses the ten dollar words, and who does not.

Affectations, Accents, and Pet Names

While I don’t want to get into accents again, you should consider regional dialects and regionalisms. A sandwich on a long roll is a grinder in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but it’s a hoagie in Philadelphia, a po’boy in New Orleans, and a sub in New York. So if your characters are from Queens, you’d better have them call it a sub unless they’re messing around or are copying someone from out of town.

Pet name usage can be extremely helpful in writing. When you write a couple, you may find you are writing a ton of dialogue between them. And it can get boring to constantly write he said, she said, so you can usually drop that after the first trade of words. However, you may need to pick that up again after a while if you think the reader will get lost. And it could be that they can really get lost if your couple is of the same-sex variety. However, if one person calls the other one snookums, and the other doesn’t use pet names or just says darling, then the reader gets a clue when you use those terms. Just be consistent and your readers will thank you.

Takeaways

Listen to people talk whenever you can, and try to read your dialogue aloud. If you can get a friend to help you, even better. Because if your sentence is a tongue twister for you, then it is for your character (and, by extension, your readers as well).

Unless you meant to do that.

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Career changing Inspiration Writing

Getting Story Ideas

Getting Story Ideas

Getting story ideas can sometimes be difficult.

Where do your story ideas come from? Harlan Ellison has been known to quip, “Schenectady.”

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Getting story ideas
Where are you getting story ideas?

I wanted to use this image for a blog post about getting story ideas because it is perhaps the oddest thing. Because I really did see this dirty plate in the sink a few years ago. And I thought: there’s a story there.

Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

So for every dirty plate, there are a thousand other possible sources of inspiration. And I’ve been posting a lot of these sources. These are means of how I inspire myself but they are far from being all-inclusive. And you don’t have to find any of them inspiring if you don’t want to. Also, your methodology will, undoubtedly, differ from my own.

However, here are some things which have worked well for me.

Personal Methodology

  • Look at multiples. That is, if you see one thing that is of interest, pair it with something unexpected. Or maybe add another thing to it. As a result of doing this, I came up with the phrase, “Smart kangaroos“. And this phrase helped me to write a ton of fan fiction.
  • Flip the script. So what I mean is, consider the opposite of something you like. Or even consider something you dislike, and what it would take to make you like it.
  • Filter your outside stimuli. That is, look at the outside world like a character or a reader would. What do you notice? What do you ignore?
  • Let ideas settle and percolate.
  • Use brainstorming as a tactic. This means not filtering your ideas. The concept behind brainstorming is to throw a ton of jello against a wall and hope some of it sticks (or something like that; I’m probably mixing metaphors here). The short answer is: don’t self-censor.
  • Write down your dreams.
  • Write down your ideas, no matter what they are. They might be a turn of phrase, a scene, a name, a face, anything.

Getting Story Ideas: Takeaways

If all else fails, you can look at writing prompts and those are perfectly fine. But to make your own kinds of prompts, consider what you would be doing if you had to be the one coming up with the prompts.

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Career changing Inspiration

Writing Exposition

Exposition

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Exposition

Exposition works.

First of all, exposition basically means a literary device intended to describe a character’s background, or “our story so far”. It can be done elegantly, with flashbacks or dialogue or even a character finding something or other. It can be clunky, like when characters say, “As you know, …” and then proceed to clue in the reader but then tell the other characters everything they should, logically, already know. For example, one doctor telling another one how chemotherapy works would denote really clunky exposition.

Clunkiness was rather memorably skewered by the Basil Exposition character in Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery. However, you and I don’t want that to happen with our works.So we’ve got to try to be a lot more eloquent. Hence we’ve got to figure out how to clue in our readers in a more natural fashion. So consider your setting.

Using Settings for Exposition

What do I mean by this? Your story’s circumstances and your characters’ specifics might be places to sneak in some background. Are they spies? Spies get briefings. Are they museum goers? Museums have docents (specialized guides) and tours, and they also have guidebooks and even identification for paintings or artifacts. Hikers use trails. Motorists use maps (or GPS, if the time period is right).

There is nothing wrong with a character reading a street sign, either out loud or to themselves.

Here Now the News

Love or hate it, but a character reading a newspaper or listening to radio news or watching it on television can provide a level of exposition to your story which can be seamless and even elegant.

Chapter Titles

When your chapter title is Sunday, August 6, 2017, 11 AM, San Francisco Chinatown, you get across a ton of information in a very short space. And you do so without interrupting the flow of the story unnecessarily.

Character Names and Occupations

These are more subtle, but if your characters have names like Maria, Vito, Anna, Guido, and Antonio, your reader will think Italy or at least an Italian family. If your characters have occupations such as blacksmith, miller, alchemist, and barber surgeon, your reader will think of medieval times.

The New Guy

There is a damned fine reason why a lot of television pilots involve someone coming to a new city or starting a new job. This is because explaining the story and the plot and characters to the new kid in town is perfectly natural.

“Excuse me, but where’s the spaceship parking bay?” “Oh, it’s next to the mess hall. I’m Dave; I do the regular run to Venus every Thursday.”

It’s natural, it flows, and it doesn’t bog down the story.

Interweaving Exposition

Yet another method is to weave the exposition into the story or the dialog. “You have great eyes. I love that color blue.” “My mom always said they looked like the ocean. But I grew up in Kansas and I confess I didn’t see the ocean until I was thirty.” Or “You look like hell,” she said, noticing the wound on his arm. “Oh, you should see the other guy.”

Get it?

Takeaways

Exposition is truly vital in writing but you need to get it across without a dump of information. Read back your exposition. If it reads like a text book, or it goes on for too long, see about changing it but also about breaking it up. A bit of exposition here and there, even if it’s the same amount as in your big info dump, will stick out a lot less.

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Career changing Publishing

Writing a Query Letter

Writing a Query Letter

Now that you want to get your work published, it’s time to write a query letter!

It’s understandable to be a bit anxious about this. Practice will help a lot, not just with writing better queries, but also with your nervousness. Understand that many famous authors were rejected several times before they were published. So keep on plugging and try not to get discouraged.

Query Letter Basics

What is a query letter | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Adventures in Career Changing
What is a query letter?

First things first: always do what the publisher says you should do. Seriously. Queries are cover letters accompanying your submissions to a publisher or agent. They can vary in length, but Job One is always to do what the recipient wants. That is, if the recipient wants it as an attachment, send an attachment. If they want it in the body of the email or sent via snail mail or faxed, then do that. Double-spaced? Do it. Times New Roman font? Why, that’s suddenly your favorite font, too!

The last thing you want to do is annoy the recipient of your letter. So follow directions to the letter. Unsure of an instruction? How about asking on Twitter? Do not let your manuscript get a rejection under a technicality.

Rather than giving you an example, it’s probably best to link to a successful modern query letter. Now imagine your work, with a showcase like that. Change the genre if necessary, the character names, etc., and you’ve got the bare bones of a query letter.

Suggestion: check several successful query letters, particularly those which are fairly recent and are in your genre. If they are the queries which your actual target admires, then so much the better.

Keep plugging. Queries are a rite of passage for every author. They will get easier as you keep on doing them.

You can do it!

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Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration From Sexism

Yes, You Can Still Get Inspiration from Instances of Sexism

Sexism remains an unpleasant reality in our world.

Since sexism is still with us today, you might see it, or even experience it yourself. However, even an unpleasant experience can inspire fiction writing. Because sometimes, you just want to write a villain. And maybe your villain can eventually see the light and change, too.

Sexism At Work

In the United States, there are rather specific laws governing and prohibiting gender discrimination. However, that was not always the case. If you write historical fiction, things can differ considerably. Consider what gender discrimination means. It means judging a person’s characteristics or abilities based upon sex and often traditional gender roles.

Hence judges might see women as better parents in custody battles. Or men might get blue collar jobs more often due to perceived differences in physical strength. And this can happen even when physical strength does not factor into job performance.

Sometimes women lose out on promotions due to imagined differences in toughness. And men can find they are overly scrutinized in professions where they may be in the minority. These can be nursing or teaching or the like.

In Social Situations

Some instances of sexism have mild or semi-benevolent origins in what is gallantry behavior. Holding the door for someone is a nice thing to do. However, when a person only holds the door for women, that is move which treats the sexes differently. Even a positive difference is a difference, particularly when it can be a vestige of not just gallantry. It can also be a vestige of behaving as if women are incapable of taking care of themselves.

Social sexism can also take the form of deciding who asks whom out, or who pays for a night out. Waitstaff can perpetuate this by asking for women’s food orders first, and also by giving the man the check. Teachers might perpetuate these behaviors by giving strength tasks to boys and praising the quietness or cooperation of girls.

When sex is an excuse for a snap decision about someone without taking specifics into consideration, then it’s sexism.

Casual Prejudging and Sexism

Whether you try to excuse it as locker room banter, or it appals you, sometimes people indulge in this. And it can even happen almost inadvertently.

One area where this tends to happen is with apparel. It’s rare when boys or men receive judgment for what they wear. That is, unless it’s overly feminine, filthy, or completely inappropriate for the occasion or task at hand. Or it’s the wrong team’s jersey.

Women and girls are often judged by their clothes. It can be skirt or shorts length, the neckline of a blouse, or the height of their heels. And yes, sadly, that goes into the rape old trope. What was she wearing?

No matter what, we still hear it.

Takeaways

Characters can remark on everything from who pays for dinner to who gets the right to vote. They can support sexist conventions by pulling out chairs for women and giving little boys toy trucks. Or they can upend those conventions by giving up seats on the subway to men. Or by giving little girls chemistry sets.

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Career changing Covers Legal

Working With a Cover Artist, Part 2

It’s Time for Working With a Cover Artist, Part 2

There is more to the engaging of a cover artist part of working as an independent writer than just selecting an image or giving them an idea of what you want. Working with a cover artist involves some paperwork.

Working With a Cover Artist Should Mean a Contract

A lot of us get nervous talking about contracts and copyright and that is completely understandable. They seem difficult, complex, fraught with meaning, and all-too final. It feels like a prenuptial agreement sometimes – don’t you want to have faith that everything will work out all right?

Eh, not so fast.

This is not your great love (even if the cover artist is a friend or a relative). Instead, this is about rights. Your rights and the rights which belong to the artist.

The question is: who owns what? Without getting into the minutiae of copyright law just yet, this site offers not only a decent basic breakdown of the law in the United States, but also a good basic contract for a free download.

Are you all set now, and just have to fill in the blanks and you’re good to go?

Not exactly.

Cover Artist | Book cover basics | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Adventures in Career Changing
Book cover basics

Read over the agreement. If any of it does not make sense to you, talk to a lawyer! Even those of us not specially trained in copyright or contracts law can generally dope out an agreement. Further, in the US, you have got to have competence in Contracts Law in order to pass the Bar examination. It’s a basic part of the Multistate Exam. Hence even your friend the real estate lawyer should be able to answer your basic contract questions.

One Quick Tip

For the part of about State, County, and State, you want to write in your own state and county or parish. Why? Because if a lawsuit comes down, you will be a far happier person if you get to go to the courthouse in your county, instead of one potentially on the other side of the country. It will be far less expensive, and you will be far more likely to exert your rights if you feel they have been violated.

Second Quick Tip

Introduce the idea of a contract before the cover artist does anything. Make it clear you won’t engage them to do the work if the agreement is not signed, but also give them an opportunity to look it over and make changes to it (e. g. they might agree to a different-sized format, etc.). Note: this agreement is rather artist-centric. They probably won’t have much of a problem with it. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Be patient and pleasant like you would be with anyone; this is not you forcing the artist to do anything. But do insist on a signed agreement.

Changes

You might want to make changes to a design. You can spell those out in the contract. Should the artist charge you for any changes? They might; make sure all of that is in writing. See why it’s a good idea to know pretty much what you want before you start? It could come in handy for, say, an agreement that the first three changes are free.

Working With a Cover Artist Means Payments

Don’t pay it all up front, and don’t agree to do so. If you are absolutely, flat-out broke, you should still be able to pay something, even if the artist hand waves and doesn’t want anything for their work. Be good to your conscience and at least ask if you can make a small donation to one of their three favorite charities.

Otherwise, payments should be as specified in the agreement. Are they in dollars, Euros, bitcoins? Do you pay with a check, a credit card, Paypal, or something else? When is the first payment due? What percentage of the total is due at the time? What’s the mechanism for getting a refund if things don’t work out?

Recommendations

Do you absolutely love your cover? Or do you dislike it but still think the artist is great (e. g. sometimes our visions can clash)? Then find out where and how to recommend them, whether it’s a recommendation on LinkedIn or a review on Yelp. And be sure to tell your writer friends, too!

Be good to your cover artist, and they will reward you many times over.

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Career changing Covers Legal

Working With a Cover Artist, Part 1

Let’s Look at Working With a Cover Artist

Have you ever worked with a cover artist?

It is like any business relationship, or it should be. Respect your cover artist, and they will help you. Don’t, and beware!

Get an Idea of What You Want Before You Start

covers cover design fonts
So, which fonts are on the covers in your genre?

So the last thing a cover artist wants to hear is, “Surprise me!” When they ask you how you envision your cover, you need to have an idea. One of the best ways to get such ideas is to browse Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and even your local bookstore. Look at the typical covers in your genre. Are they natural-looking? Industrial? Hand-drawn?

What are the predominant colors? Black and white? Green? Pink? Red? Something else? So are they angular, or are the shapes softer and more muted?

Use care!

Now we have all heard or read the expression, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Except that it’s absolutely untrue. We do judge books by their covers. All. The. Time.

Do Your Cover Artist a Favor and Do Some Research

If the covers in your genre’s section of the bookstore are all orange, should your cover be orange, too? It’s hard to say. You want it to look like it belongs in that section, right? But you also want it to stand out. I would say, if you are a new author and you are predominantly selling online, you need to consider how your work is going to look when it’s shown with others in the genre.

Perform an Amazon or Barnes & Noble search for your genre, and for any keywords related to your plot. If your book is a children’s work about a super-ocelot named Clive (please don’t steal this work. I suddenly have a wicked plot bunny ping-ponging around my head), then you could search under children’s works and then under superheroes or animal stories, etc.

It might even be helpful to take a screenshot, print it and then consider images which would fit in and images which would stand out.

Your Name

So, your name is probably not going to be recognizable to most people. While it is an important part of the cover, it might be better for the artist to make the title stand out more.

Cover Artist Contracts!

Oh, and another thing – be sure to have a written agreement with this person. Even something relatively informal, signed by both of you, is better than nothing. But why? Because you’re exchanging money for labor. And that means, sometimes, people sue.